When paramedics answered a call for help at a rural gas station outside Edmonton on Nov. 20, 2009, Betty Anne Gagnon was dead.
The five-foot-two woman weighed just 65 pounds. She had bruises on her body, two black eyes and blood in her nose. And she was living with her sister and brother-in-law — who were later sentenced to 20 months in jail in relation to her death.
Denise and Michael Scriven were initially charged with manslaughter, but later pleaded guilty to failing to provide the necessaries of life.
Gagnon’s death is still shrouded in some mystery. Her fatality inquiry this week, nearly eight years later, is likely to answer some outstanding questions. It’s also likely to retread much of what we already know: that there were several opportunities to prevent her death in the months — even years — before it happened.
Answers that raise questions
Gagnon lived with developmental delays from a lack of oxygen at birth. But she went on to live a very independent life in Calgary, with the help of caregivers. She rode the bus by herself, held a job, loved shopping, daydreamed about swimming with dolphins and voraciously read the newspapers.
It’s jarring to compare that life to her existence before she died. After her caregivers moved away from Calgary, Gagnon went to live with her sister near Edmonton, where she was eventually confined to a dog run, a feces-smeared tent, and various cages on the rural property, forced to sleep outside in an unheated school bus, beaten and called names.
CBC spent more than a year trying to uncover what happened, by reviewing court documents, evidence gathered for the trial (including pictures and video of the crime scene), and conducting more than 10 hours of interviews with people who have direct knowledge of the case.
The resulting picture reminds one of an old proverb:
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.